Mrs Beasley's Blog

Learning from a tutor's perspective

Jamie’s Dream School. Further musings from a tutor’s perspective

Jamie’s Dream School (30.03.11)

There was a more inspiring feel to last night’s programme, with several of the students considering their futures in a considered way, and finding out about the options that were open to them, and the subjects that were engaging them. For instance, one boy discovered a love of art, and Rolf Harris worked tirelessly with him to create a painting  of which he could be really proud. Another girl was drawn to the world of medicine, although she wasn’t quite sure which field, having viewed an operation in hospital and feeling rather put-off; and a third boy was thrilled to be on the stage of The Globe Theatre, and realised he would love to become an actor. It seems as if, finally, the students are waking up to the world of reality, where dreams can be achieved and finding that there is another alternative to either a life on benefits, or a dead-end job.

However, and this for me is still the crunch line, their behaviour was still unruly when they were all together, and their bad habits of not listening and constantly talking in a lesson continue. It is my opinion that we have to try and sort this out long before the students get to the ages of sixteen. I know I am behaving a bit like King Canute, trying to hold back the waves, but couldn’t we begin, in just small ways, to rescue the children like those on Dream School who do have something to offer society, talents and gifts which are never realised, and which they never even knew they possessed?

How we do this, I’m not sure, but I believe we should begin in primary school, and make sure that all children can read when they leave at Year 6. Statistics just released show that 1 in 5 pupils at Year 7 – the first year in secondary school – cannot read.

Why not?  One of the reasons, I believe, is the constant interfering and meddling by those on high in the methods teachers use to teach young children how to read. I well remember, when I was a young teacher, the ridiculous fad of ITA (Initial Teaching Alphabet), where strange combinations of letters were used to represent sounds and words. When a child had mastered that, they then had to go back to TO  (Traditional Orthography) and learn to read all over again, using the conventional method. Then we had phonics, followed by Look and Say, followed by Learning to Read by Picture Books, and now we are back to ‘synthetic phonics.’ One of my pupils in Year 6, can read really nicely, and loves to show off his prowess.  If I then ask him to tell me about what he has just read, he can’t. He has not understood any of it. He chooses his own books, writes his own comments about them in his reading diary, and takes them back to school, only to choose another one. Looking at his reading diary, he seems to be heard by an adult once a fortnight. His parents have poor English and can’t help, and none of his older siblings is interested in helping him. How will he cope at secondary school? I really don’t know. At the moment, he is still engaged, and thinks he is doing well. How long before he, too, becomes disaffected, and turns to inappropriate behaviours through sheer frustration?

One of my tutors, semi-retired, was the deputy head of a school in South Manchester. Under her experienced and expert lead, all the children in the Infant Dept. were heard to read by their teachers at least four times a week. Teachers gave up their time before school, at break and at lunchtime to make sure this happened. Now she has gone, (but still goes in once a week to continue with her dyslexia tuition) the new headteacher has abandoned the reading scheme, the carefully graded books, colour- coded for easy recognition, and introduced a system of ‘child- centred learning’. Now, the children pick any book that attracts them, regardless of how easy or difficult it is for them, and the structure of hearing the children read has been abolished.

Child-centred learning? Haven’t we been here before, (in the Sixties), along with open-plan classrooms and integrated days? Don’t we ever learn anything from the past?

As a teacher, it has always puzzled me as to why education is so subject to fashionable fads, and why this is allowed. Who are the faceless ones who dictate how our children should be taught, and what they should be taught? One thing I do know, and I shall defend this opinion to the death, is that they do incalculable harm to our young people. They are the ones who are the guinea pigs for these trendy methods, and who suffer as a result. When I was a headteacher,  my  youngest member of staff, who joined us an  NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) told me one day that she had no idea how to use punctuation and grammar. When she was at school, it wasn’t deemed important, it was the content of the writing that mattered more than anything. We then had to lend her books and give her a crash course, because how could she teach theses things to her class if she couldn’t do them herself?

[As a student on my final Teaching Practice, I well remember having to take the class for ‘creative writing’. This entailed putting on a piece of music, and getting the children to seek inspiration from it. I can never hear the “fight music” from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet without remembering that lesson. I was sick to death of it by the time we had listened to it over and over again, waiting for the muse to strike!!]

Jamie’s Dream School (30.03.11)

 

Further musings from a tutor’s perspective

 

There was a more inspiring feel to last night’s programme, with several of the students considering their futures in a considered way, and finding out about the options that were open to them, and the subjects that were engaging them. For instance, one boy discovered a love of art, and Rolf Harris worked tirelessly with him to create a painting of which he could be really proud. Another girl was drawn to the world of medicine, although she wasn’t quite sure which field, having viewed an operation in hospital and feeling rather put-off; and a third boy was thrilled to be on the stage of The Globe Theatre, and realised he would love to become an actor. It seems as if, finally, the students are waking up to the world of reality, where dreams can be achieved and finding that there is another alternative to either a life on benefits, or a dead-end job.

 

However, and this for me is still the crunch line, their behaviour was still unruly when they were all together, and their bad habits of not listening and constantly talking in a lesson continue. It is my opinion that we have to try and sort this out long before the students get to the ages of sixteen. I know I am behaving a bit like King Canute, trying to hold back the waves, but couldn’t we begin, in just small ways, to rescue the children like those on Dream School who do have something to offer society, talents and gifts which are never realised, and which they never even knew they possessed?

 

How we do this, I’m not sure, but I believe we should begin in primary school, and make sure that all children can read when they leave at Year 6. Statistics just released show that 1 in 5 pupils at Year 7 – the first year in secondary school – cannot read.

 

Why not? One of the reasons, I believe, is the constant interfering and meddling by those on high in the methods teachers use to teach young children how to read. I well remember, when I was a young teacher, the ridiculous fad of ITA (Initial Teaching Alphabet), where strange combinations of letters were used to represent sounds and words. When a child had mastered that, they then had to go back to TO (Traditional Orthography) and learn to read all over again, using the conventional method. Then we had phonics, followed by Look and Say, followed by Learning to Read by Picture Books, and now we are back to ‘synthetic phonics.’ One of my pupils in Year 6, can read really nicely, and loves to show off his prowess. If I then ask him to tell me about what he has just read, he can’t. He has not understood any of it. He chooses his own books, writes his own comments about them in his reading diary, and takes them back to school, only to choose another one. Looking at his reading diary, he seems to be heard by an adult once a fortnight. His parents have poor English and can’t help, and none of his older siblings is interested in helping him. How will he cope at secondary school? I really don’t know. At the moment, he is still engaged, and thinks he is doing well. How long before he, too, becomes disaffected, and turns to inappropriate behaviours through sheer frustration?

 

One of my tutors, semi-retired, was the deputy head of a school in South Manchester. Under her experienced and expert lead, all the children in the Infant Dept. were heard to read by their teachers at least four times a week. Teachers gave up their time before school, at break and at lunchtime to make sure this happened. Now she has gone, (but still goes in once a week to continue with her dyslexia tuition) the new headteacher has abandoned the reading scheme, the carefully graded books, colour- coded for easy recognition, and introduced a system of ‘child- centred learning’. Now, the children pick any book that attracts them, regardless of how easy or difficult it is for them, and the structure of hearing the children read has been abolished.

 

Child-centred learning? Haven’t we been here before, (in the Sixties), along with open-plan classrooms and integrated days? Don’t we ever learn anything from the past?

 

As a teacher, it has always puzzled me as to why education is so subject to fashionable fads, and why this is allowed. Who are the faceless ones who dictate how our children should be taught, and what they should be taught? One thing I do know, and I shall defend this opinion to the death, is that they do incalculable harm to our young people. They are the ones who are the guinea pigs for these trendy methods, and who suffer as a result. When I was a headteacher, my youngest member of staff, who joined us an NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) told me one day that she had no idea how to use punctuation and grammar. When she was at school, it wasn’t deemed important, it was the content of the writing that mattered more than anything. We then had to lend her books and give her a crash course, because how could she teach theses things to her class if she couldn’t do them herself?

 

[As a student on my final Teaching Practice, I well remember having to take the class for ‘creative writing’. This entailed putting on a piece of music, and getting the children to seek inspiration from it. I can never hear the “fight music” from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet without remembering that lesson. I was sick to death of it by the time we had listened to it over and over again, waiting for the muse to strike!!]

Jamies’s Dream School, Have Your Say!

Have you been watching Jamie’s Dream School? (9pm, Channel 4, Wednesdays) I have been avidly following it since the first episode, two weeks ago. Strangely enough, nobody else I have spoken to has seen any of it, but, as a teacher, I was glued to the set from the start.

It is about Jamie Oliver’s attempts to motivate and encourage back into learning, a group of twenty young people, average age seventeen, by providing them firstly with a building, made into temporary classrooms, but, more importantly, inspirational people – not necessarily teachers – in an attempt to inspire the students. The criteria for choosing this particular group was that none of them achieved the requisite five GCSEs, and neither did Jamie, of course, a fact which has spurred him on to help these students.

The team working with the students has so far included David Starkey, Rolf Harris, Alistair Darling, Robert Winston, Simon Callow and Alvin Hall. There is also a real headteacher, John Dabbro, in charge of the day to day running of the school.

My initial response to the programme was, quite literally, shock and horror. I have never witnessed behaviours such as these, and I felt profoundly depressed. There was no attempt by any of the students to exercise any form of self-discipline. Indeed, I doubt whether any of them know the meaning of the word, let alone be able to practise it. They talked incessantly amongst themselves while the teacher was speaking, they chewed gum, they insulted each other and they constantly used their mobile phones to send texts, completely ignoring the lesson which was going on around them.

Halfway through his first lesson, David Starkey walked out. He had insulted a boy by calling him fat, and described the whole class as ‘failures’. This did not go down too well with the students, and they responded in kind!

It is interesting to watch the way the experts handle the pupils, some of whom, admittedly, come from difficult backgrounds. Their behaviour is enough to try the patience of a saint, and even the headteacher rounded on one girl last week, and excluded her. Her diatribe against him, in which she loudly and vociferously denounced him for what seemed like five minutes without pausing for breath, was unbelievable. Even her own mother, who initially took her part, was appalled when she watched the recording, and told her daughter off for her rudeness and dreadful behaviour.

This programme raises some interesting questions. How do children in school get to this stage? Why do secondary school pupils think that this is acceptable behaviour? David Starkey described them as ‘feral’ and many people would agree with him. When the camera focuses on a particular student, they actually come across as pleasant and sensible. It is just that, when they all get together in the ‘classroom’, the pack mentality cuts in, and the behaviour becomes obnoxious. Some students do, admittedly, come from difficult backgrounds, but not all: one boy comes from a home where both parents are working professionals, but they have, as they admit, “given up.” The students have had a very rocky three or four weeks, and their behaviour has been appalling. They think nothing of getting up and walking out of the lesson if they feel like it, either because they are “bored” or because they want a smoke. They yell at each other across the room, carrying on their private squabbles, despite the fact that there is a lesson going on, and this week (23rd March), they reduced the very capable headteacher to tears, and almost caused him to quit.

However, there does seem to be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate, whose first class ended in utter chaos, tried a different approach, and it worked. He spoke to each student individually, explaining how he could not teach in an environment where he couldn’t make himself heard, and offering the students the chance to stay away from his lesson if they wished – only two did. When the others turned up, he made it very clear that he expected silence and attention, and he got it.

Another success was Alvin Hall, teaching maths. He, too, was able to engage them, and ended up with at least two of the students choosing to do extra maths in their own time.

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Yes, in my opinion there is. Several, in fact.

Firstly, we need to impose discipline and structure within the classroom at a very early stage, because, as these students demonstrate, when the classroom situation descends into chaos, nobody learns anything, and pupils become disaffected.

There is a strong case for banning mobile ‘phones, which were constantly being used during lessons for texting (and chewing gum!).

Secondly, the most successful lessons so far have been the ones which relate to “real life”. For example, Alvin taught maths from the point of view of going shopping – how much things cost, giving change, etc. All the lessons which identified with the students’ lives were successful. However, by becoming more engaged in one subject, they became more engaged in another, and so, gradually, a new understanding of, and respect for, learning is growing.

I will have much more to say on this subject after this week’s programme.